Some bands just have an obvious best album. Reign In Blood. Appetite For Destruction. Zen Arcade. Closer. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Never Mind The Bollocks, erm… Thriller. I won’t even reference the artists. You should know them and will probably agree – like them or not – that they are the respective best studio albums by said artists.
Then again some bands / artists just do not have a clear best album but a series of great records. Always a spark for an interesting and maybe heated discussion.
Best Ramones album? The first album, but many will disagree.
Best Clash album? The debut album, again I can almost hear readers sigh and consider London Calling.
Best Nirvana album? Nevermind, but many would choose In Utero or indeed Bleach.
Best Led Zeppelin album? Four Symbols – then again their debut is a great record.
Best Radiohead album? OK Computer, sure they get more experimental and experimentation can be thrilling – but always come back to what you know is best for you.
The Cramps have a series of great albums occupying a unique genre. Not quite punk. Not quite psychobilly. Not just garage or rock n’ roll – but a blend of all these genres. They stand alone.
Gravest Hits is a unique debut E.P. Five classic tracks – only one of which was penned by the band – but it didn’t matter. The Cramps own take on The Way I Walk, Domino, Surfin’ Bird and Lonesome Town practically make their versions the essential ones. The track written by The Cramps Human Fly is so strong that it betters all of the covered underground gems.
Songs The Lord Taught Us as a debut album proper is a bona-fide classic – but is it better than Gravest Hits. It’s impossible to compare them almost – they are very different records of near equal brilliance.
Psychedelic Jungle then only goes and takes The Cramps into a weirder and more wonderful direction. Not as instant as the first two records but absolutely no weaker – at all.
Despite remaining a legendary band for the rest of their entire duration, The Cramps last truly great record is the 1983 release Smell Of Female. I do not usually appreciate Live albums but this is an exception. It’s not their greatest record – but, as stated – what is?
Arguably the record (Smell Of Female) captures The Cramps at the peak of their powers. Imagine seeing them live in 1983. I was lucky enough to see them live in 1986 but they did have an off night when I saw them.
The difference between ’83 and ’86 would have been in ’83 they did not have one bad record, by ’86 the music was for the first time taking a nosedive.
Smell Of Female has only 6 songs. Not one dud track. Arguably an E.P. (it plays at 45rpm) and also was released as three boxed 7 inch singles. MP3’s and C.D’s cannot give you the mystique of good old vinyl releases (he types listening to Smell Of Female via iTunes).
All of the albums / E.P’s mentioned were released before I discovered The Cramps – when I had heard these great records and anticipated their new releases it was sods law that A Date With Elvis, Stay Sick, Look Mom No Head, etc were nowhere as near essential listening. Damn.
Back to Smell Of Female. Even the talking on the live record is fantastic. That is the way to introduce live songs – a mark of one of the best front men of the last century surely. The Most Exhalted Potentate Of Love is just a classic “mad – you call me mad?”… You Got Good Taste is a storming track too. Call Of The Wighat despite being weaker than the openers features versatile vocals and continues the vibe.
Faster Pussycat is as good a cover version as you are ever likely to hear. Quite similar to the Bert Schefter original but the guitar here wins hands down. Psychotic and luxurious – it sounds like the 60’s and the 80’s have never needed the 70’s. A corker.
I Ain’t Nothin’ But A Gorehound has music to match the tracks brilliant name. Storytelling style madness from Lux and jab jab jabbing guitar with that deadpan primitive drumbeat. As the track fades you can hear The Cramps start to play New Kind Of Kick but it fades and is not included on Smell Of Female – like I said – seeing The Cramps live circa 1983 would have been something else – imagine how great the rest of the set must have been.
Psychotic Reaction is the final track and it raises the roof, listen to the crowd, the lucky buggers.
The Cramps also have two essential compilation records : Off The Bone and Bad Music For Bad People. I’m not knocking the band at all but Smell Of Female just was their last truly great release. They are and always will be legendary. If you are ‘new’ to The Cramps, watch and listen to the whole accompanying video, it’s a ready made conversion kit. Enjoy the essence of alternative Rock n’ Roll…